The Five Stages of Critique Grief

What does a writer want in a critique? Be honest now. I know deep in my soul that what I really want is to be told I’m an incredibly talented writer and that, other than a couple of minor revisions, my manuscript is perfect just the way it is.

I know I’m not alone in this because I often see that unacknowledged desire in other writers. I don’t know how many times I’ve read an independently published novel that begins with heartfelt thanks to a legion of beta readers, only to struggle through a book that’s poorly written with too many spelling and grammar errors to count.

The first step in accepting a pull-no-punches critique is to acknowledge that we need to go through the five stages of grief after our child is pummeled and left bleeding on the ground.

Denial

That reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

He doesn’t understand the genre.

It’s good enough. I can’t rewrite it anymore.

My boyfriend liked it.

Anger

The reader is an idiot.

She’s probably jealous she can’t write as well as me.

Julia Quinn said I showed a lot of talent.

I won a literary award in middle school.

Bargaining

I’ll show it to my mother. She likes romance.

Maybe if I just change this one scene it will fix everything.

I should take that other novel out of the drawer and worked on it for a while.

Lord, make me a best selling author and I’ll give half my income to the poor.

Depression

Why did I ever think I could be a writer?

I should go back to accounting.

I wonder what’s on Facebook.

I need a drink.

Acceptance

Maybe she has some good points. Time to get back to work.

Happy writing!

Kelee

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And… First Draft Finished

It’s been a longer road than I imagined, but I’ve finished the first draft of Goddess, Book 2 and sent it to my first round beta readers. Technically, it’s refined enough to be called a second draft. I wouldn’t share my real first draft with my own mother.

I’m sure all authors experience what I’m feeling now – euphoria at reaching a milestone, optimism that what I’ve written is good, and fear that I’m misleading myself and what I’ve written isn’t good. I’ve gone through these same emotions with every screenplay and book I’ve written. A draft is never as good as I think it is, but I can’t see its flaws until someone points them out to me. That’s why we ask for critiques.

I want to give a shoutout to my fabulous fellow romance writers who are kind enough to read a manuscript that I know isn’t yet ready for publication: Jess Moore, who allowed me to critique her upcoming novel, Fierce Grace; Elodie Colt, who will be releasing her debut novel In Blood We Trust in April; and Danielle Lori, author of A Girl Named Calamity. Thanks, ladies!

Happy reading and writing,

Kelee

A New Year’s Resolution for Writers: Chuck Your Computer

Thanksgiving was a delicious, inspiring holiday this year. My family attended a potluck heavily populated with writers and artists. Even more memorable than the vegan stuffing were the evening’s conversation.

At one point, we were discussing our writing regimens. A fellow author at the dinner table just received a rave review of his latest book in the New York Times. (I’ll let him remain anonymous because I haven’t asked permission to share his writing discipline.)

He lives with his husband in a large, rambling old farmhouse in upstate New York. They have three empty bedrooms, any one of which could be turned into an office. Instead, he decided to build his own, Henry David Thoreau-like cottage at the back of their property. It’s far enough away from the house that he can’t pick up the wifi. Not that he could use it. He doesn’t bring his laptop or phone to his writing sanctuary. Instead, he uses composition books and a favorite pen to write the first draft of his books.

According to my dinner companion, he found his writing became more emotional and unfettered when he worked this way. Plus, writing by hand made it difficult to edit what was already on the page, so he just kept moving forward forward. The technique was liberating for him, and he never looked back.

He still uses a computer, but not until the second draft. The process of typing his hand-written draft into his laptop forces him to consider every page, every paragraph, every word. It’s obligatory deep editing.

My New Year’s resolution is to use this technique to write my next novel. I don’t have a shack in the woods, so I hope I’m disciplined enough to stay away from my phone and other distractions while I write. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kelee

Your Self-Published Novel Sucks. (5 Ways You Can Make It Better.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love self-publishing. It’s been a boon to writers in the same way cheap digital technology has opened up access to low budget filmmakers. As readers, we get to experience deserving books that would have never seen the light of day in traditional publishing because they’re isn’t a mass market for them, or they’re controversial, or there’s just not enough room on bookstore shelves for another new writer.

That said, most self-published novels suck. That’s not surprising. It’s damn hard to write a good book. Odds are, 95% of self-published novels are going to be dreck. The question is, how does your novel, or my novel for that matter, make it into the coveted 5% that are actually worth reading?

I come to the world of novel writing from the world of screenwriting. When I was young, I was a first-round reader for screenwriting contests. I literally read hundreds of scripts, but only passed along a handful to the second round. I learned how hard it was to write a good script, and I saw the many ways they fell short.

I also coordinated a screenwriting group for many years, working with a diverse group of peers to improve our writing. Some people went on to success, others gave up. It was like a great Darwinian laboratory that showed me why many writers fall short of their goals.

I’ve obtained a few nuggets of wisdom through those experiences and from working with Hollywood agents, managers, and producers.  Here are five lessons that have stuck with me and changed my outlook on writing.

  1. Your first draft is going to suck. I love how writers are portrayed in movies. They usually are struggling with writer’s block, which is finally cured through the love of a good man/woman are some mind-blowing experience they have. They then sit down and bang out a first draft that their agent/friend/lover reads and declares to be the greatest thing since Faulkner. But the reality is, even a book as great as To Kill a Mockingbird started out as a mediocre first draft called Go Set a Watchman. (Or so an article in the New York Times posits.) Your first draft is going to be bad. Accept it. Embrace it. Be happy that you’ve finished it.
  2. Your 10th draft will probably suck too (though less so). A manager once told me that the real work doesn’t even start until the 10th draft. I once wrote over 30 drafts of a screenplay that turned out to be the best thing I’d ever written and garnered me some attention in Hollywood. Good writing takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. It’s like training for an Ironman. Many writers get frustrated and declare that they can’t write another draft. That’s the time to put it aside until you’re ready to rewrite and rewrite some more. It’s definitely not the time to start sending it out to agents and publishers.
  3. Listen to your critics. I have a friend who is a talented writer. She sent out her first novel to at least 20 friends who served as her beta readers. Most of them weren’t writers themselves and offered only vague, positive comments. I, on the other hand, sat down with her and gave detailed suggestions on how she could improve her book. But she didn’t want to hear it. She was defensive and said she wasn’t willing to do any extensive rewriting at that point. I realized that she was looking for people to prop up her ego, not improve her book. We writers need to put our egos aside and listen to every comment, positive or negative. Not all of them will be helpful, but if we’re open and free from judgement, we’re bound to learn a few things about our work and ourselves.

    A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. — Woody Allen in Annie Hall

  4. Grow as a writer. A friend of mine who dances socially likes to say that some people have six months dance experience, while others have six times one month experience. In other words, they don’t continue to improve with experience. I’ve found this to be true of writers too. There were some very nice people in our writing group who never improved much as writers. We encountered the same weaknesses in every script they wrote, no matter how much the group tried to help them. Was this about a block that they might overcome eventually, or were they hitting the ceiling of their talent? I’m not sure, but I know it was frustrating for them. So do whatever you can to help yourself grow–have new experiences, take a class, find a new mentor, read a book, change genres, or switch from screenplays to novels, like I did.
  5. Accept who you and and where you are. Not everybody is going to be a best selling author or win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But you know what? Even if you achieve those things, you’re still the same person inside, and you still have to get up every day and face the distinct possibility that the next thing you write is going to suck. Enjoy the process. Enjoy living. That’s what writing is all about.

Best wishes,

Kelee